There are few things more exciting, more joyful, more life-affirming than seeing someone express their passion. This is one of the reasons why people get so close to their hobbies, and why hobbies can build such a strong sense of community. Sharing these passions with each other creates this self-reinforcing truss work of joie de vivre that gives people confidence and direction. Cemented by the enthusiasm of fellow hobbyists, some individuals stand out as pillars of their community, through generosity or charisma or even creativity.
Board gaming, is of course, no different. Being a hobby with creativity as one of its bedrocks, people who have the motivation and drive to complete a project are celebrated. Today’s example is one such, a board game fan who has not only designed several games, but also published them, and with style, too.
Flying Frog Productions, founded by Jason C. Hill, is a board game publisher that represents one end of a spectrum, and a distinct and important perspective on board games. In the board game hobby, games are generally divided into two camps. One is called Eurogames, a name which typically describes games that focus on the mechanical aspects of a game - intricate rules systems, balance, and fairness. Eurogames tend to dominate the board game hobby at the moment, but the second order of board games is still an important one. Initially called Ameritrash, which has softened into names like Amerigames or Adventure games or others, this category is for games where excitement, immersion, atmosphere and story are the aspirations. (For the sake of civility and professionalism, let’s use the BoardGameGeek term for this, Thematic Games.)
The games that Flying Frog publishes wholeheartedly embrace the Thematic Games ethos. Every bit of plastic and cardboard in a Flying Frog game is a rivet or girder building the one theme for their game, every rule is a signpost on the player’s journey to victory or defeat. The values that Eurogames pursue are often ignored, and sometimes sacrificed in the name of excitement. When playing The Last Night on Earth, for example, a player may find themselves trapped in a corner of the map, facing way too many zombies, without any item cards to give them a sliver of hope. Eurogame fans balk at this situation, finding their chances of victory completely confounded by random rolls of dice and cards drawn. They may blame the game’s lack of balance, attributing their sour feelings to poor game design. But, and this is very important, this isn’t the only way to see it.
Instead, games like The Last Night on Earth, or other Flying Frog games, or Thematic Games in general, see the thrill and excitement instead of the imbalance and unfairness. It makes sense that a survivor would get trapped in a shed during a zombie apocalypse, the only things keeping them alive is time and hope. Thematic Games prioritize the consistency of the setting and story over game balance, and if that means that sometimes the game is unfair, so be it. The setting is unfair, the game just models that. Defeat has to be real for victory to be meaningful.
We keep reinforcing that this is important, but why? Because it’s fun. It’s exciting, dramatic, and emotional. In an enduring cliché, Thematic Games aim to engage the right side of human brains, where emotional stakes and social connections build a narrative. The rules tell a story, not just the art and theme. As it follows, Eurogames respond to left-brained experiences of abstract logicality. And while the current ebb and flow of the board game hobby has washed over to the Eurogame style, everyone in the board game hobby would do well to remember the lesson that Flying Frog teaches us: games should be fun.By focusing on the emotional, narrative aspects of board games, Flying Frog sets itself apart. Their adherence to this Thematic Games philosophy - and unique production design - makes Flying Frog a cynosure in the hobby. The abiding popularity of The Last Night on Earth, Shadows and Brimstone, and Fortune and Glory remind hobby fans fascinated by the elegance and cleverness of Eurogames that there’s more than one way to have fun. Board games are versatile and capable experiences, and appreciating all of the things that board games can do enriches us and our appreciation of the thing we love.
So it’s because of Jason Hill’s passion for games and stories that the board game hobby, and everyone connected by the same sinews of enthusiasm, is bestowed with depth and diversity. While every board game fan’s personal preferences aren’t susceptible to criticism, every fan can benefit from seeing their passion and community from a different perspective.